Dealing with a lab merger

These are volatile times. In politics, financially, and even literally, if you work for a company that makes self-destructing clocks. And with volatility comes all the normal uncertainty about jobs, housing and even if the company you work for will be the same one when you come into work in the morning.

Now there’s lots of reasons for your company changing overnight. The labs you work in could have burnt to the ground, been flooded, been used as a butt scratcher for a passing Godzilla, or any one of many plausible disaster scenarios. But far more destructive for a lab is arriving to the discovery that your employer has now merged/been taken over.

Mergers are simple things. You take two companies that do things that could maybe help each other. Lock their owners and their lawyers in a room with some romantic music and after a few hours they come out with massive smiles and often both inexplicably richer. I might be getting it a bit wrong but my lack of any management training tells me that description is fairly close.

Now for more office-based institutes, mergers are initially very simple. There are two finance officers, there needs to be one finance officer, provide a slide rule and call for the cleaner when they’ve finished deciding.

But labs are different – there are so many nuanced differences between them it’s very hard to even identify which parts overlap. Yes they’ll have their own spread of projects but projects often overlap and interconnect (particularly over equipment) like some kind of multilayer jelly. To take them apart and then add them to another jelly creates frankenstein jelly that theoretically should have all the parts of the best jelly but just looks a bit like someone scraped it off the floor.

Now there’s lots of reasons your jelly/lab ends up looking this way. Trying to merge two labs into one means combining the people, the equipment and then the small items like chemicals and reagents. All into one unified jelly… sorry team. And that’s not easy.

Starting with staff, in small labs one person can have 15 different jobs and some of which are easy to transfer and some are impossible. Accidentally letting go the one scientist that knew which screw to tighten on the HPLC to stop it making a “CRONK” noise is a hard thing to quantify in justifying staff.

Then there’s the equipment. Ridiculously specialised and with crazy complicated spec sheets. Buying half of this equipment is an exercise measured in days of research and careful consideration about how having the one with 5000 extra widgets is better than the 4896 one. But come a merger you have a choice of two and the person deciding will probably pick based on which one looks cooler… actually I’m not sure I disagree with that method. Coolness of lab equipment is an important factor.

Lastly there’s the reagents. Every lab is a unique collection of crazy stuff slowly hoarded over years and countless projects. Collections of materials, small consumables and chemicals which are obviously things that absolutely must be kept. That leaves you with a huge pile of reagents that are pretty common. No lab needs 2 massive containers of salt and obviously you can select between the two by the time tested method of which one has the nicer label.

Of course the easiest way to merge labs is simply to get similar bottles of stuff and just combine them into one bottle. Firstly it’s quick and secondly there is a chance that doing it might lead to the very sudden reduction from two labs to one lab and some new empty real estate.

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